Sisu — Rage, Determination, and Killing the Enemy

Have you ever seen a movie and wondered why no one is talking about this film? In 2023 that film is “Sisu.” I’m hoping it becomes a hit, at least a sleeper hit. I’m not expecting it to make “Avatar” money, but it deserves some attention. I saw a trailer for it months ago and waited patiently for its release. When I began searching for showtimes, I only found one theatre with a mere four showtimes on opening night. Of course, I jumped on one, and it’s one of the most fun movies I’ve seen in a long game.

What Is Sisu?

That’s the question I got a lot when I told others what I was going to see. Sadly the marketing hasn’t been huge. Let’s start with the word Sisu. Sisu is a Finnish concept, and it’s explained in the film that it’s a phrase that cannot be properly translated. Sisu is a Finnish concept described as stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience, and hardiness. The idea has a very long and interesting Wikipedia page that’s worth reading.

“Sisu” is a historical action film that takes place in 1944 in Finnish Lapland. It has a very simple story that’s almost impossible to really spoil. A Finnish veteran of the Winter War works as a prospector and eventually finds gold. The Nazis are using a scorched earth policy in Finland as the Russians close in.

Our main character is mostly silent and absolutely unstoppable. (Lionsgate)

Our nearly silent protagonist Aatami Korpi is making his way to a bank to cash in his newly found gold when he comes across a Nazi SS platoon. While they ignore him at first, it eventually leads to a very violent struggle between Aatami and this Nazi SS platoon. Throughout this conflict, Aatami shows that he lives by the concept of Sisu.

My non-spoiler review is as simple as this. It’s a great film. It’s absolutely beautifully shot, the action is fresh and fun, and you’ll squirm at the determination of our main character. He will do anything to survive and win.

Beyond here, you’ll find spoilers, so click off now if you want a spoiler-free review.

Sisu Makes Me Wann Visit Finland

Jalmari Helander is a Finnish director, and I think he really loves his country. He films it so beautifully. The big wide shots of Finnish Lapland are beautiful and make me want to visit the country. I’m not a film nerd, but I can appreciate the director’s art.

The film itself has a bit of grain to it, and as you watch, it becomes clear the movie is a fusion of ideas and inspirations. “Sisu” comes off as a mix of a war film combined with pulp-fiction grindhouse style and Western inspirations. The elements seem out of place, as I say, and you really have to experience them to understand.

The director credits inspiration from “First Blood” and the legendary Finnish sniper Simo Häyhä. It’s one man versus many, and the one man’s determination guides him onward.

The Story

I pretty much summed it all up. Man finds gold, Nazis want gold, and they fight for the gold. There isn’t much else than that. The Nazi platoon is constantly shrinking as Aatami kills his way through it. He seems unstoppable, but he’s not invincible. Some of the marketing brags that it’s the same studio that brought you “John Wick,” but the movie isn’t a Finnish “John Wick.”

standing nazi
The film pulls no punches. (Lionsgate)

Aatami isn’t necessarily the best fighter or warrior. What makes him different is his Sisu. He is determined to win no matter the cost to himself. He is wandering constantly throughout the film and spends most of the movie fleeing the Nazis and only fighting when cornered and forced. Although, when he fights, he’s capable and clever.

Some scenes are just so creative and out of this world you’ll laugh. For example, in one scene he’s stuck in a minefield but throws the mines at the enemy and uses them to cover his escape. Another time he dives into a lake, and the Nazis follow. He slits their throats and uses the air that escapes their bodies to remain underwater longer.

Man with pickaxe
Anything is a weapon to this man. (Lionsgate)

Another scene has him hanging from a noose, dying. He ends up pushing a leg wound into a piece of rebar to keep him alive and from suffocating. The movie is not afraid to be nonsensical and over the top. It’s not striving for historical realism by any standard.

The Cast

The cast is small, but the performances are solid. Aatami is mostly silent, but his face and body language portray some real emotion. From finding the gold to choosing not to give up, his face and body language let you know exactly what he’s thinking. The Nazi platoon is led by SS Commander Bruno and his right-hand man Wolf. Wolf is slimy and disgusting, a really bad guy. Bruno is brutal but seemingly exhausted and sick of the war. Both are true villains, and you really want to see them get their just deserts.

Nazis with guns
We see a few Nazi-era guns like the MP40, the Kar98K, and M42, but also Russian Mosin Nagants and DShK Machine guns. (Lionsgate)

Anytime Nazis are portrayed, they are either villainous or cowardly, which is the best way to display Nazis. Rounding out the cast is a group of Finnish women taken hostage and abused by the Nazis. Aino leads this group, and they go from helpless to vengeful when given a chance. This isn’t a film with a ton of emotional moments, but the actors all do a fantastic job of selling their characters.

Aatami has an adorable dog that’s unnamed, and don’t worry. It doesn’t die.

The Guns

The guns are mostly historically accurate. We see Aatami with a Mosin Nagant on his side. He never uses it, but the weapon makes sense. The Fins used the Mosin, and he fought with one during the war. The Nazis carry mostly MP40s. They also have a smattering of Mosin Nagants as well. 

women with ww2 era guns
We see a mix of MP-40s and Mosin Nagants in the film, as well as a Kar 98K. (Lionsgate)

Wolf does carry a Mauser Kar98K with a scope. I’m not an expert, but the scope’s height and design resemble Nazi designs from the era. The platoon has a tank, but they use a Russian DShK. It could be captured, but how you mount a Russian heavy machine gun on a German tank is beyond me. Although to be entirely fair, it’s a Russian T-55 dressed up a bit to look German.

Luger with nazi
The Nazis all use Lugers, which would have been odd since the P38 was the weapon of choice for this era. (Lionsgate)

Sisu makes a mistake. A lot of World War 2 movies make and arm all the Nazis with Lugers. Sure, some Lugers were used by Nazis, but the main sidearm was the Walther P38. In this film, every Nazi uses a Luger as a sidearm.

Sisu — Go See It

If you want “Saving Private Ryan,” don’t watch this film. If you want something fun, exciting, and beautifully shot, check out “Sisu.” It’s a creative action flick that’s just fun, exciting, and often nonsensical. If you want to turn your brain off for 90 minutes, then “Sisu” is a great watch, and I’ll be buying it on Blu-Ray.

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